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Published on June 23rd, 2013 | by Mathias

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Solar Cell Efficiency World Record Set By Sharp — 44.4%

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June 23rd, 2013 by
 
Editor’s Note: In May, Sharp regained the world’s triple-junction, non-concentrator solar cell efficiency record — 37.9%. Now, it has also taken the overall world solar cell efficiency record — 44.4%. Here’s another repost from Solar Love on the news.

A research team at Sharp Corporation has announced that it has created a solar cell capable of converting 44.4% of incoming sunlight into electricity. The solar cell is of the “concentrator triple-junction compound” type, which basically is a lens-based system that focuses sunlight.

The high conversion efficiencies that we see with compound solar cells are due to several photoabsorbing layers typically made from indium and gallium. Sharp’s record-setting solar cell uses three layers (InGaP top, GaAs middle, and InGaAs bottom), as you can see on the illustration below:

concentrator

Comparing to the best efficiencies of solar panels on the market today is not really fair, as these solar panels are cost-competitive. A better comparison would be against other research cells in NREL’s Best Research Cell Efficiencies.

The last record (44.0%) was set by the NREL III-V Multijunction Photovoltaics Group in November, 2012.

solar efficiency records

Compound solar cells are mostly used in space satellites where high conversion rates and good space-efficiency are more important than costs. Sharp is looking to use the technology of compound solar cells in terrestrial applications in the future.

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About the Author

studies Energy and Environmental Engineering. In his spare time he writes about solar panels and other renewable energy technologies at Energy Informative. Connect with Mathias on Google+ or send him an email.



  • Bob_Wallace

    Anyone know why these high efficiency panels are so much more expensive than the stuff we actually use?

    There doesn’t appear to be much in the way of materials – these are thin layers of stuff. Is the manufacturing process slow? High failure rate?

    Or is it just economies of scale issues?

    • JamesWimberley

      Multiple steps in the laying down of the semiconductor? High tolerances? Expensive raw materials? Just guessing. But if multiple-junction cells could be made cheaply, we would be seeing them on the mass market today.

    • Otis11

      Well, there’s actually a multitude of reasons. First, a 3 junction panel is essentially 3 separate panels that are layered on top of each other – so you would expect them to cost 3x as much. Yes there are savings realized through being able to share certain common features, but these are more than negated by the difficulty in creating multiple junctions on top of each other. Multiple junctions are incredibly difficult to make and every layer increases the cost to manufacture exponentially.

      Now this vastly oversimplifies the concept, but that’s the main premise.

      You also need significantly more equipment to make multi-junction panels, or you need to use the same equipment for a longer time (depending on how the factory is set up – and it’s actually almost always a mix of both, but one dominates in terms of costs – depending on how you set up the factory floor). This also adds capital costs as it ties up machinery for longer.

      Then there’s also the tolerance costs as James mentioned, but I don’t believe those are the most significant factor, although they do contribute.

      And in regards to the raw materials – while these materials are significantly more expensive than traditional silicon panel costs, I do not believe it is significant.

      Keep in mind, this could be out of date as it’s been over 18 months since I’ve discussed this field with people in the industry (and you know how fast it changes) but I believe these major points should hold true.

      • Bob_Wallace

        Thanks.

        Roughly the same amount of machinery per layer. Materials costs not much higher. Assume clever people would design machines that could deal with the alignment problem.

        My take-away from that is that we could probably make 39% efficient panels for the same amount as 13% efficient panels if we were manufacturing in large enough volume.

        Then the savings in cover glass, frames, shipping, racking, installing, real estate and wire would make the higher efficiency panels winners.

        No guarantee, but I could see a company coming out of stealth mode with a high efficiency panel which would initially sell at a premium price for special use but over time would drop in price to be competitive.

        BOS costs could drop very significantly. And we’d have no trouble installing all our solar on rooftops which is also a cost saver.

        • Otis11

          Yes, there is a lot of clever work being done to try to minimize these costs, but I doubt they will be more economic than the panels we are currently mass producing in the near term unless there is a space constraint. This said, I could see them being more economical than grid power in a few years – and may even see multi junction (or at least high efficiency single junction) panels appear on roof tops soon enough as roof space may be limited.

          Although if BOS costs stay up for some time, they may overshadow the panel costs and make these high efficiency panels more practical. Also, it’s worth considering that more efficient panes may be a good upgrade in 40 (ish?) years or so when current panels output starts to noticeably decrease or the user needs more power and doesn’t have room to expand. Should be fairly easy if the wiring and everything is already done…

  • Bob_Wallace

    “as these solar panels are cost-competitive.”

    I think that phrase needs a bit of work, Mathias.

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  • ToddFlach

    Concentrating solar systems, both PV and thermal, require direct sunlight and must have tracking to point directly at the sun all daylight hours every day. So these systems are most useful where there are 2000-4000 hours of direct sun yearly. But my guess is that they are very competitive in such locations, e.g. Arizona, New Mexico, Southern California, Nevada, southern Colorado, west Texas, northern Africa, large parts of Australia, etc. Imagine this: a modularized, mobile 1-square meter unit that produces 450 watts in direct sun… and can be placed on the ground where there is no shade. 3-4 of these would be a near equivalent to a fixed PV rooftop installation.

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